Friday, March 28, 2014

Q & A - Frank "Pancho" Villarreal of Grupo Rodeo‏

San Antonio's Frank "Pancho" Villarreal returns to the Valley tonight, at the Gaslight Club in McAllen. The leader of Grupo Rodeo took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about his lengthy Tejano career.

Festiva: How did you get started in Tejano music?

Villarreal: My father was a musician himself, he used to play with his brother. His brother had a orchestra by the name of Grupo Villarreal. That got started by listening to my dad, and wanting to be just like him. I started very young. At 13, I started playing professionally with my dad and my uncle. That was my beginning.

Festiva: I heard that you played sax, keyboard, and arranged music with Emilio Navaira. From what time period where you with Navaira, and what did you take away from your time there?

Villarreal: I was an original member. By '89 he had a band and I was the last member to join the band. He was looking for a keyboard player and I went to audition. I went ahead and took my sax, just in case. He liked the fact that I could play sax and keyboard, so he gave me the job.

As far as learning, I learned a lot of stuff from Emilio. Basically his concept was, "we're trying to make music that was commercial." That's always been what's stuck with me. He was right, his concept was correct, that what the people want to hear on the radio is just something that's going to be catchy enough, simple enough so they can dance, drink, and all that good stuff. So that's something that I learned along the way from them.

Festiva: What led to the formation of Grupo Rodeo in 1993 and why that name?

Villarreal: I had a good run with Emilio, we were already touring in Monterrey, and I had a lot of connections. I met a lot of people through the association with them. At that point with Emilio, I decided I was going to move on and do something (else). Originally I just wanted to make a group and play locally. I didn't want to do anything big. But because Capitol (Records) knew who I was, they gave me an opportunity and asked me for some demos. One of the songs that I did on the demo really blew them away. They offered me a contract within a month or so, to do a CD. Tejano at the time was booming in the '90's, so it was just the right time for me to do something.

Grupo Rodeo was chosen by me. During the tour with Emilio, we played in the rodeo in San Antonio, and it was one of the biggest rodeos. It was a big experience for me, I was shocked to see how many people were there. I don't remember the exact total, but let's say, it was like 56,000 people were there, or something like that. That had a big effect on me. As a matter of fact, I even saved the poster, I framed it.  Every time I looked up at that frame, 'rodeo' stuck with me. When I was searching for a (band) name, I figured, "You know what, I'm going to put 'rodeo' here."

Festiva: How do you feel you've evolved as an artist throughout Rodeo's nine albums? How long ago was your most recent release?

Villarreal: Well when I first started, even with Emilio, we were just experimenting with ideas, sounds. Now I still do experiments, a little bit, but it's more refined. I'm more mature as a musician now than I was 10, 20 years ago. I know what I want to hear, I know what I want to do. I'm not guessing, I'm not just throwing the die. I know what I want to be.

My new CD is called Incomparable. It's been out already six months. It's doing great, if you can't find it at the record shops, we're going to have it at the Gaslight if people are interested in buying.

Festiva: How does it feel to be coming to the Valley this weekend?

Villarreal: We haven't been to the Valley in a while, so we're really, really eager to go over there. I've played there before with other people, it's a great venue, it's a great place. We're looking forward to it, man. The people are going to be surprised by the stuff we have and how we sound. We're hoping all la raza from the Valley come and support us. We've been around a long time y ya era tiempo (and it was time) to come back to the Valley.

Time: 7:00 PM
Date: 3/28
Cost: $10.00  
Phone Number: 956-572-8158
Location: Gaslight Club in McAllen, TX.

Pepe Maldonado

Talking to Pepe Maldonado
In the past 12 years, The Lomita Park has established itself as the mecca of conjunto bailes in the Rio Grande Valley. Week in and week out, this establishment provides its fanbase with a Sunday evening showcase of the most popular conjunto acts around.

"La Lomita Park today is very important to the conservation of conjunto music," Lupe Saenz, president of the South Texas Conjunto Association, said.  "La Lomita Park is like an icon in conjunto music, in the Valley. You can compare La Lomita now with La Villita in San Benito, and other famous dance places in the Valley. What La Villita, and the other salones were in the 60's and 70's, La Lomita is today."

The man behind it all is conjunto musician and promoter Jose "Pepe" Maldonado Sr.

On February 23, Maldonado Sr. celebrated his 73rd birthday. He was wearing a sharp looking suit for the occasion. While a little under the weather, he was excited about performing for his weekly Sunday audience.

"Me siento muy bien, gracias a dios (I feel real good, thanks to god)," Maldonado Sr. tells me as I introduce myself at La Lomita Park and ask how he's doing on his birthday.

Maldonado Sr. was born to Santana and Nieves Maldonado in Rio Grande City. He was one of four brothers, with seven sisters. By 1945, the hard-working migrant family had relocated to Edinburg.

From a very young age, Maldonado Sr. dreamed of entering the music scene. While he can play a variety of instruments, including the accordion, bass, and bajo-sexto, he was especially interested in singing.

I asked him, "How did your parents feel when you told them you wanted to sing?"

"You want me to tell you?" laughs Maldonado Sr. "They were very much against it. (My dad used to say) that, '(Singing) is for the birds. You're not going to make it, so you better just keep on picking cotton or picking tomatoes.' They didn't believe in music, they didn't believe that we could make it."

Maldonado Sr. rebelled against his parents and forged his own path in life.

"Anything can be done, no matter what," Maldonado Sr. said. "It's all up to you, if you want to do something real bad, you'll do it."

During the 1950's, a theater in Alamo would host weekly amateur events for local musicians. That's where Maldonado Sr. got his first taste of what it felt like to perform in front of a live audience.

"At that time, Pedro Suarez was the disc jockey there, the guy that made the show," Maldonado Sr. remembers. "That was the first time I ever started singing with a group, and I started singing with Ricardo Guzman. From there on, I caught on pretty well."

Shortly thereafter, Guzman mentored Maldonado Sr. and help him advance in his craft.

"He had one of the greatest groups here," Maldonado Sr. said, referring to Ricardo Guzman y Los Tres Aces. "After a while he said, 'You know you sing good, I'm going to help.' He taught me a lot. He taught me how to vocalize."

It was in 1956 when Maldonado Sr. joined his first group. He started singing and playing bass guitar for Gilberto Lopez y su conjunto.

"We had a real nice time en ese tiempo (in those days)," Lopez said. "En esos tiempos todos trabajamos en la labor (In those days we all worked on the fields). I had to pick him up from where he was working (on our way to a gig)."

With Lopez, Maldonado Sr. recorded "Nada Me Importa" and "La Quintanita" in 1957 for Discos Ideal.

Maldonado Sr. notes that in 1958, his father finally accepted his son's path.

"I can remember my dad, hearing the radio with me, and we were sitting on the porch. They played a record that we had done, that was recently out. He was hearing it, he told me, 'You know what, I think you can really sing.'"

For the next few years, he recorded with Lopez and Guzman until he started his own conjunto in 1962. His fellow band-mates included his brother Margil Maldonado (bajo-sexto), Joe Luna (accordion) and Ramon Morales (drummer). Pepe Maldonado y su conjunto switched to Bego Records in the mid-1960's.

"El Troquero" and "Amorcito Consentido" were two of his biggest hits. There was another hit that reached even greater heights.

"In '67, I made the greatest hit of all (for me), 'Al Pie De Un Crucifijo'," Maldonado Sr. said. "Even New York (radio stations played it). We sold to New York, I don't know how many thousands of LP's when it came out. At that time I was working with Bego in the shipping department. We used to ship to New York, 200-300 LP's a week."

That same state where he sold so many albums to was also the one state that alluded him in another category.

"I went to all the states except New York," Maldonado Sr. said, when asked about how many states he has performed in.

Maldonado Sr. estimates that he recorded about 20 LP's and 20 CD's. Some of his latter, post-1970's releases were recorded at his own recording studio, and released on his own label, which was known as Del Sur Records. He tells me that over the course of twenty years, he recorded many local musicians there.

While Maldonado Sr. is reminiscing about his career, his accordionist Juan Antonio Tapia pulls up a seat right beside him. The Brownsville musician played previously with Cornelio Reyna in the 1990's.

"This guy is a hell of an accordion player, we do well together," Maldonado Sr. said, pointing to Tapia.

The two have been playing together since 1996.

It was 1992 when he started envisioning a setting that would allow him to host weekly conjunto music events.

"They weren't playing conjunto music, they weren't working things like they should be working around the Valley," Maldonado Sr. said. "So I decided to go ahead and put up this place, and try to promote these groups."

The process took over 10 years, as he worked towards building a physical representation of what he had imagined. The western aesthetic is the first thing one notices about his creation.

"Let me tell you why (I designed it this way)," Maldonado Sr. said. "That's the way we were raised. I was born in 1941, and what we had, was exactly what you see in my place here. It's all 'rancho' style. People like it here, because they come, and they feel at home. It's very, very homey. I decided to go that route, to do something different for the people."

In 2002, the site opened with a performance by Freddy Gonzalez. Judging by its attendance, it's come a long way since then.

"That was the first dance we ever made, we had two couples," laughs Maldonado.

As my conversation with Maldonado Sr. draws to a close, he notices his grand-daughter, Becky Palacios approaching. He starts to introduce her and his son Joe Maldonado Jr. to the surrounding crowd.

"This is my nieta, she takes care of Facebook and he takes care of YouTube. And I take care of the money," Maldonado Sr. said with a sly smile.

"And I take care of Pepe as long as he's carrying the money," adds Tapia, laughing.

At the entrance sits a group of men that are here every Sunday. One of them is Roberto Hernandez, or "Vato Loco" as he's known around these parts.

"Pepe I've known him, I think, 46, 48 years," Hernandez said passionately. "This is a good place cause it's puro conjunto, que los pachucos le gustaba mas antes (that the pachucos liked back then)."

The people that shows up to these weekly gatherings all seem to have known each other for decades. One person that knows this crowd better than most is conjunto legend Gilberto Perez Sr.

"I like to play there because of the people, mostly from middle-age on up, older people that are strictly conjunto fans," Perez Sr said. "When I play there, I see people smiling, hollering, gritando. They are having a lot of fun. They make you feel good because they applaud a lot."

I ask him if it is just like the old days. He says that while it is the same crowd, it is a little bit different in 2014.

"In the old days, when we were young...," Perez Sr. starts to laughs, subtly hinting that the scene was a bit more wild back then. "(Now) they are older, they behave better."

When you enter the venue, the first person you're probably going to run into is Irma Maldonado, as she accepts your $10.00 entrance fee. Her and Maldonado Sr. have been married for over 54 years. They have four children; three girls and one boy.

Maldonado Sr. goes up to the stage, grabs a hold of the microphone and greets his audience.

"Ahora estoy un poco malo de la garganta (Today I'm a little sick, from the throat)," Maldonado Sr. said. "Me pusieron tres inyecciones. Me dijo vete a dormir. Me veni a cantar!" (He gave me three injections. (The doctor) told me to go to sleep. (But) I came to sing!)"

The dance floor slowly fills up with a group of people, dancing in a circular motion. Some of the dancers salute and tip their hats at Maldonado Sr. as they glide by in front of the stage. Maldonado Sr. nods back and smiles.

As the Vato Loco gets close to where I am sitting, he presents his dancing partner to me. He calls her his "Loca".

In the middle of the set, Maldonado Jr. calls me over to a laptop he has in the back of the building. There he shows me how they operate the live U-Stream video. He demonstrates what he does by changing the camera angles that are broadcast through the internet.

"I try to push it as much as I can," Maldonado Jr. said. "I wanted something else that added more attraction to La Lomita. (My dad) didn't believe me in the beginning. He's not familiar with the technical progress que estamos ahorita (that we have now)."

Maldonado Jr. explains how after they added this feature, they started receiving a lot more attention from outside the Valley. His father now understands the value of the internet and social media.

"You'd be surprise how many people call," Maldonado Sr. confirmed. "From Washington, Illinois, Florida, from everywhere."

After an hour of performing, Maldonado Sr. steps out and Bernardo y Sus Compadres steps right in.

At this point, Maldonado Jr. leads me throughout the dance-room, showing me some of the highly decorated walls. The walls are covered with vinyl record covers, photographs, newspaper clippings and posters. The photographs are mostly made up of musicians that have played here in past years. Two large images of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne stand out. One framed certificate reads "Smithsonian Folklife Festival". This brings Maldonado Sr. back to the Summer of 1998.

"Going to Washington D.C. is beyond your imagination," Maldonado Sr. said, adding that he performed at the White House lawn that Summer. "Es un paraiso. Sabes lo que es un paraiso? Paradise!"

On a day off, Maldonado Sr. and Tapia walked over five hours visiting the Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and several other monuments.

"We had a blast," Maldonado Sr. said. "That's a great memory for me. Visiting all those places."

Maldonado Jr. also clues me in on one aspect of his father's career that doesn't get discussed much.

"In 1963, I worked at a radio station in Fowler, California," Maldonado Sr. later told me when I asked him. "I worked for a couple of years there. Then after that, I came (back) here, and started working for KIRT (AM 1580) radio. Then after that I started working for 840 AM. I was working for quite some time on the radio."

The two radio shows that were broadcast here aired under the title "Estamos en Tejas con Pepe Maldonado". He credits his time there with learning a lot about the business side of music.

After an hour, Maldonado Sr. steps back into the spotlight. This time he has an accordion strapped on. He gets on the microphone, and singles out two regulars in the audience. Their names are Fred and Nena Palacios.

"Estoy mas que seguro, porque esto fue en los 60's, que les tocaron un vals para bailar en su boda (I'm pretty sure, because this was in the 60's, that they played a waltz for you two to dance to at your wedding)," Maldonado said.

It was their 54th wedding anniversary and his gift to them was in the form of a waltz. The two walked over to the center and danced slowly, as Maldonado Sr. took them back to their youth.

"I made them feel like they were 54 years back," laughs Maldonado.

He finished his second set with "Al Pie De Un Crucifijo". As the crowd applauded, Maldonado Sr. joked that it's been so many years, that he forgot a few words but it doesn't matter.

He is now running around, doing work around the site as his birthday party nears its end. He does a little bit of everything, keeping his joint in tip top shape.

"I do all my maintenance," Maldonado Sr. said proudly.

At the end of the night, Maldonado Sr. walks back to his house, which is located right in front of his business.

"From the recording studio, to the record store, to this, to him playing on weekends, lo a hecho todo (he's done it all)," Maldonado Jr. said. "I'm extremely proud. He has done a lot, solo. He probably hasn't been given the credit that he deserves for trying to keep the music going."

Maldonado Sr.'s status as a legendary conjunto musician was established long before La Lomita Park came into fruition. Now in 2014, his stature has only grown since the creation of this outlet. He's one of the bright lights that has helped keep this music from fading away into obscurity.

"I feel that I have done something great for the conjuntos," Maldonado Sr. concludes. "Something great for the people that are diehards. I feel that I have accomplished what I have set out to do. I'm glad everything turned out to be fine."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Narciso Delgado To Be Honored‏

For the past few years, Carlos R. Cantu, 75, has worked towards bringing recognition to the music of Narciso Delgado. The City of McAllen is now on board, to pay tribute to the legendary musician.

Delgado, who resided in McAllen from 1935 until his death in 1977, composed many memorable canciones. The multi-instrumentalist performed in a variety of bands, including his own orchestra. Cantu and several others believe Delgado is the legitimate composer of "Nochecita".

In March 2013, Cantu explained to me what he wanted to do in order to preserve the memory of Delgado. Everything has fallen in place since then.

One day last year, Cantu noticed a man painting a mural on the corner of 10th Street and Redwood Ave. The artist introduced himself as Ernesto Macias, originally from Cuba. The two discussed Cantu's idea for a Delgado mural, and they came to an agreement.

While most of the funding came from Delgado's daughter Imelda, Cantu says he also received three anonymous donations to help with the project. People interested in the mural can check it out at the corner of 17th Street and Fresno Ave. in McAllen.

"It's across from where Narciso and his family lived for about eleven years," Cantu said. "There used to be a lot of little neighborhoods in the city, back in the old days. That's why we wanted to put it there."

This Monday afternoon at 5 PM, the City of McAllen will be honoring Delgado's life and music. The proceedings will be held in the commission chambers at city hall. Delgado's music will be playing downstairs in the lobby before the city meeting gets underway. Cantu says March 24 will be declared "Narciso Delgado Day".

"They will announce some of his accomplishments (at the meeting)," Cantu said. "(Also they will talk about) his other profession, which was the grocery business that he was involved with. He had a neighborhood grocery store for many years on Date Palm and 21st. He helped employ a lot of people including (former McAllen mayor) Leo Montalvo."

Many guests will be in attendance at city hall that day, including Imelda Delgado, Noé Pro, Rene and Minnie Sandoval. Plans for a reception afterwards are currently being scheduled.

The final item that Cantu and I discussed last year, was the possibility of Delgado's name being added to a street in McAllen. According to him, this has now been finalized.

"They have agreed to add his name to Fresno Ave, at least on 17th street," Cantu said. "When they do the proclamation next week, they are supposed to announce that."

Cantu believes that younger people will become more aware of Delgado after next week's ceremony. He does not plan to stop with Delgado, as he intends to champion many other local musicians in the future.

"I thought it would nice to begin with Narciso, because he's long passed due," Cantu said. "We are going to start honoring other musicians, we are trying to find a way to do it."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Texas Sweethearts

Diana De Hoyos, Elisa De Hoyos, Minnie Loredo, and Mari De Hoyos.
The Texas Sweethearts is an all-female band that plays music that is made up of a variety of influences that come from both sides of the border. It's a mixture of many key ingredients, including Tejano, conjunto, country and ranchera music.

Before the formation of the Texas Sweethearts, three members of this group were part of their own family band called Mari and Her Spanish Angels.

Mari De Hoyos, 45, was born in Reynosa, which is where her love of music first started.

"We lived very close to the bull fighting ring," Mari said. "Every morning they had speakers full blast, the whole city can hear it. I would wake up very early, sit by the door and listen to all the songs that were coming up. I'd sing right along with them too."

Mari took a liking to the guitar after seeing her mother and father performing. She learned how to play in secret.

"He was very particular about us touching his guitars so he would hide them," Mari said. " I figured a way of getting inside the walk in closet. I'd put the flashlight on, take out his charts, his guitar and I would practice that way."

It wasn't until she learned "Cariño" that she revealed to her parents that she knew how to play.

"I played it for him, he was like, 'When did this happen?'," Mari laughs. "So he gave me his guitar. Very nice, black, shiny guitar. He says, 'You can have that one.'"

When Mari became a mother, she took her children to church often. Two of those seven children are Elisa De Hoyos, 26, and Diana De Hoyos, 25. Both were raised in Weslaco.

"I gave them small rhythm instruments so that they could behave at church," Mari said. "I had a church choir, they were running all over the place. I'm singing, I'm like, 'Where are they?'"

The two daughters played tambourine and maracas. Mari and Her Spanish Angels began to take shape. After a few years, the two moved on to different instruments.

"I started playing the accordion," Elisa said. "I figured since it's a piano accordion, I can play the keyboard so I asked my parents for a keyboard and they got me a keyboard."

At the age of 11, Elisa went from a piano accordion to a button diatonic accordion when she received a Hohner Corona II. Later she was given a Gabbanelli accordion as her regalo de sorpresa (surprise gift) at her quinceañera.

"The first song that I figured out on the piano accordion was 'Atotonilco'," Elisa said. "When I got to the Hohner, I did meet up with (Juan Lugo) in San Benito, who works at Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center. They give lessons once a week. My mom's like, 'Why don't you go learn a song or two.' So I started going there. The next polkitas I learned were, "La Nona", "La Sicodélica", "Los Cardenales". Certain old polkas 'cause he was very traditional. Later I met up with Gilberto Perez and he showed me some other polkas."

Diana briefly played guitar with her mother, giving the group a two-guitar sound. However that didn't last long.

"I wanted something else," Diana said. "My dad was the bass player, he would let me play, he would show me some things, and at the end of a show, he would let me play the last song. From there I just started playing (the bass)."

The country element to their style came from a certain demographic.

"Winter Texans were our fan base," Elisa said. "They would bring us cassette tapes, and they were like, 'Listen to this song, figure this song out.' We started listening to whatever they were giving us. I probably know more country artists off the top of my head than any other genre and it's because of that."

Through networking with their Winter Texan audience, they found themselves performing outside of Texas. They ventured out three times, playing throughout the central states. They even went to Maine at one point.

Elisa and Diana's participation dwindled as they got older. Elisa moved away briefly, and had a daughter of her own. Diana went a different direction.

"I was like, this is not cool, I want to play rock and roll," Diana said. "I started leaving the family band behind. I wanted to go explore other things."

Diana started performing for heavy metal and rock bands. She currently plays with another group, an instrumental rock band named Verena Serene. Her perspective has changed in recent years.

"You grow up, you get out of that phase," Diana said, about how she's grown to appreciate the local culture and performing with her family.

"You go back to your roots," Elisa adds.

About a year ago, Diana talked to her mother about starting a new band.

"I told my mom, this is what I really want to do," Diana said. "I want to play again. So I told my mom, we should just do this again, when I graduate, I'll have all the time in the world. So I graduated and we started it. That's pretty much where I stand."

Mari was thrilled to hear that her daughters were interested in pursuing a new project with her. While she had missed playing with them, she didn't want to push them into doing something that they didn't want to do.

While all three were ready to start their new ensemble, one thing was missing.

"We always said we need a drummer, cause it was just us three," Mari said. "Elisa playing the keyboard, the accordion. (Diana) would play the bass. I'd play the guitar and the lead vocalist. Elisa (would) harmonize with me. It was like, 'We need a drummer, man. If we can find a drummer, it'll sound complete.'"

"A girl drummer!" Elisa adds.

"My husband was like, 'I can try," laughs Mari. "You stay home, take care of the kids."

Mari went on Craigslist and saw a post that read, "Where are all the female musicians?" Mari replied and the person on the other end was Minnie Loredo, 28.

Minnie grew up in Edinburg, and dabbled with the accordion before deciding it wasn't for her. She started playing drums when was 19 years old.

"When I heard about these girls, I was like, 'I'm going to try it, see what happens'," Minnie said. "First day we were practicing, it just flowed like we'd playing for a while."

Minnie brings to the group a deep appreciation of older conjunto stars like Paulino Bernal, Tony De La Rosa, Valerio Longoria and Oscar Hernandez. In the past, she's jammed out with Mel Villarreal and Jesse Gomez y Los Nuevo Chachos. She feels like she has improved a lot over the past year.

"(This is) where I'm growing up," Minnie said of the Texas Sweethearts. "It's making me a better drummer."

One day at Melharts Music Center, they came across a flyer promoting "Chingona Fest 2013", a women's empowerment festival in McAllen.

"I told mom, 'Maybe they have a slot open and we can play there'," Elisa said.

"Cause we're chingonas," Mari said, laughing.

Mari contacted the festival's organizer and the band was booked for the May 4, 2013 event. Mari tells me they quickly named themselves the Texas Sweethearts after securing that first gig.

Diana was a bit nervous about how the crowd would respond.

"I was worried because I know all the bands that went to play there," Diana said. "There were a lot of punk bands from the McAllen area, I was like, 'Oh they are coming here to see all these rock bands and we're a Tejano band, no one is going to like us.' Then it turned out a lot of people really enjoyed it. So I know that was a success."

"It was awesome, I was very happy (with how it turned out)," Elisa added.

Since then, Texas Sweethearts has kept themselves busy by performing all throughout the Valley. Recently they were invited to the 33rd annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. They will perform on a bill that includes an impressive line-up of musicians — Miguel A. Pérez (Spain), Dwayne Verheyden (Netherlends), Los Texmaniacs (San Antonio), Joel Guzman (Austin) and The Texas Tornados (Austin/San Antonio). The group plans to have some recordings completed soon to sell there on May 16.

Gloria E. Anzaldua once described this area as a mix of cultures coming together to create a new one. When discussing her life and musical style, Mari has a very similar philosophy.

"I feel like where we're at, it is a blend," Mari said. "I feel that I am a result of being born in Mexico, coming here, being influenced by Tejano music, the ranchera music that my parents would listen to. Then the country music that exists here. So we are a blend."

Learn more about the Texas Sweethearts at

Friday, March 7, 2014

Family and Friends Remember Juanita Garcia‏

Photo I took of Juanita Garcia at her home in McAllen.
On January 26, Tejano music pioneer Juanita Garcia died at her home in McAllen, Texas. She was 83.

According to her niece Anna Martha Garcia, the Tejano Roots Hall of Famer was a social and loving person throughout her lifetime.

"She was always ready to go to any type of events that families would have or gatherings," Anna said. "If only the world believed (in love) more like she did, it would be such a wonderful place."

I met Juanita once, two years ago. On my way to her house, I got lost within her neighborhood. I walked into a nearby beauty salon to ask for directions. I noticed a sweet old woman that was just about to leave and without even thinking I just blurted out, "Are you Juanita Garcia?". She just lit up and said "Yes". She was getting her hair done for my visit.

We left the Botello's Hair Studio together and she started telling me all about her career. She also cracked plenty of jokes.

"Very very warm, kind-hearted, always giving," Anna said. "She was very, very loving. I know that I will never come across another lady like that."

Born on February 14, 1930 in McAllen, Juanita didn't start singing until she was 18 years old.

"Today, girls start singing very young and their parents support them," Juanita told me in Spanish in 2012. "But [my parents] weren't like that, they were very strict, they wouldn't let me."

When she was 21, she got her first big break. After entering and winning a local talent show contest, she was signed to Discos Falcón.

Fellow McAllen singer Delia Gutierrez Pineda remembers those earlier years with Juanita.

"It was way back in the 50's," Pineda said. "She was a beautiful girl, a very lovely girl. She had a fantastic voice. I loved the way she had a strong voice, it was very nice. She had several records with Falcón that made her real famous."

A bolero composed by Rafael Ramirez Jr. titled "Llorarás" was her biggest hit. Other songs that she recorded include "Cucurrucucú", "Anoche Estuve Llorando", "Paloma Piquito de Oro", and "Los Pájaros".

Pineda says that Juanita was very busy recording and touring during the 1950's. When I talked to Juanita, she told me she toured with the following acts — Orquesta Falcón, Beto Villa, El Piporro, Ángel Infante, Los Alegres de Terán and Los Donneños.

Juanita moved to Houston in the 1960's. During her brief period there, she performed with local jazz legend Rene Sandoval.

"She moved to Houston, she worked with us over there for maybe a year," Sandoval said. "She had a great voice. I loved it. She was a true professional. She always dressed to the tilt. "

In the 1970's, Juanita experienced some medical issues with her throat that marked the end of her professional singing career. She moved on to the next stage of her life, which involved her taking over the family business — Garcia Grocery store on 1406 S. 16th Street in McAllen.

That's where Patrulla "Patty" Adelaida Ortega first met Juanita, ten years ago.

"I turned 18 (years old) here with her," Ortega said in Spanish about her first memories of Juanita. "When I or my husband had a birthday, she would start singing songs that she used to sing (in her youth)."

Five years ago, Juanita suffered a serious seizure that limited her mobility. Ortega moved into her home and became her caretaker. The bond between the two grew deeper as the years passed by.

"She loved my kids, she used to call my youngest el pajarito (birdie) cause he talks so much," laughs Ortega.

Ortega notes that Juanita was filled with joy this past Holiday season. Ortega didn't expect her to pass away so soon. By this point, she had became a very important person in Ortega's life.

"I never knew my (biological) mom, so I think life put (Juanita) in my path (for a reason)," Ortega said. "I view her as my mother, so to me, she is my mother."

While she still had a sharp memory at her advanced age, Juanita struggled in recent years with osteoporosis. Last year she fell and fractured her femur bone. She became bed-ridden, and started to get congestive heart failure. Anna informs me that is what took Juanita away from her loved ones.  

"I was there on her death bed, she took her last breath at 6:53 in the morning," Anna said. "She was at peace while she was passing. Her music was playing. We knew she could hear. We had some wonderful people that never left me and they never left her bedside. The neighbors were really good people, all of them."

Anna tells me that what truly truly characterized Juanita's life was the amount of love and compassion she had for the people that surrounded her. That is what drew so many wonderful people by her side, throughout her long life. She will be deeply missed.  

"(She was) a woman that strongly believed in love," Anna said. "One strong memory, and I will always keep this to heart would be that she'd say, 'Always remember that you must have love in life, because without love, there is nothing.'"